The Senate Democratic members of the Legislative Gaming Summit that spent two months studying New Jersey’s gaming and entertainment industry today unveiled their framework for legislation to breathe new life into the state’s horse-racing facilities to ensure they remain open and to protect the thousands of jobs supported by Atlantic City’s casinos.
Senator Jim Whelan, co-chair of the task force, said the members’ proposals would move the state beyond regional interests and enact a truly statewide plan for success.
“From the outset, this process has always been about rejecting the conventional wisdom that Atlantic City, the Meadowlands and the horse-racing industry could not be brought together,” said Whelan (DAtlantic). “This is a comprehensive approach will protect the jobs our casinos and racetracks support and prove that solutions do not have to come with winners and losers. If we act quickly to get this plan in place, everyone will win.”
“Because of the thousands of jobs that hang in the balance, failure to act was never an option,” said Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney. “This agenda will protect the Meadowlands Racetrack and Monmouth Park and allow racing to survive in the world’s biggest market. We will reengineer Atlantic City to put it head-and-shoulders above the competition and protect the tens of thousands of jobs the resort supports.”
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, Assembly co-chair, endorsed the framework.
“Success in Atlantic City cannot come at the expense of our horse tracks, and vice versa,” said Burzichelli (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “This is the all-around plan we need to ensure that all regions of the state can benefit from a strong and vibrant gaming and entertainment industry. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to put this plan in place.”
The framework to preserve and grow the state’s horse-racing industry and related jobs includes:
- Streamlining operations at both the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park racetracks to reduce operating costs and spending and to expand marketing and promotional opportunities, as was advocated by many who testified before the Gaming Summit;
- Enabling the Meadowlands Racetrack to follow and build upon the successful Monmouth Park “elite meet” experiment;
- Enhancing the New Jersey Sire Stakes and Breeding Development programs to allow horse breeders to stay and race in New Jersey;
- Expanding from the current system of parimutuel-only wagering to allow for exchange and single-pool wagering;
- Fixing the current off-track-wagering (OTW) law to ensure that sorely needed facilities are quickly opened and operational.
The Atlantic City makeover plan would include:
- Updating and modernizing the Casino Control Act to deliver regulatory relief, cut red tape without sacrificing the integrity of the gaming system and use technology to eliminate antiquated 24/7 monitoring requirements;
- Reorganizing the Casino Redevelopment Authority (CRDA) to give it zoning and planning authority over Atlantic City’s casino district and allow the agency to play a more significant role in the resort’s management, including greater oversight and investment in tourism and policing to ensure a clean and safe environment;
- Legalizing intrastate Internet gaming through Atlantic City’s casinos and put a question on the General Election ballot to allow voters the opportunity to legalize sports betting;
- Implementing a full-scale, multi-year national marketing program through a partnership between the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority and casinos;
- Enacting the 200-room casino pilot program.
The lawmakers said the savings from the regulatory and operational changes at the tracks, plus the revenues from expanded OTWs and introduction of legal intrastate Internet gaming would provide the necessary stable annual resources necessary to support both the horse-racing and gaming makeover initiatives.
Finally, lawmakers also said the Meadowlands district – which includes the racetrack – would benefit from modifying the state’s Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant program to help the privately-financed Meadowlands retail and entertainment complex succeed as an engine for new jobs and economic activity.
“The Meadowlands has long been a provider not only of world-class entertainment, but also thousands of good jobs for North Jersey,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen/Essex/Passaic). “This plan will allow the Meadowlands to assert itself as a destination location for more than just football. By not ignoring any sector of the state, this plan will allow all regions to benefit.”
“Unless we embrace new advances in gaming, nothing will be able to maximize our success,” said Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak. “Internet gaming and sports betting are key to the resurgence and long-term survival of both Atlantic City and the state’s horse-racing facilities. Our goal was not to just provide hospice to Atlantic City and the horse-tracks, but to breathe new life into them. This plan will do that.”
“The Gaming Summit made it absolutely clear that the Band-Aid approaches of the past would do nothing to secure the future,” said Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “We need bold incentives to make Atlantic City once again the gaming and entertainment destination it was when the casinos first opened. But this plan is about much more than gaming – it’s about creating and protecting jobs, and for that reason alone we need to act.”